Firestick

(1999)

by Nicholas Vines

Description
chamber ensemble of 15 players
Duration
15
Genres
Mixed Chamber Ensemble
Instrumentation
Ebcl.cl.bcl - 2000 - perc(1): susp.cym/tam-t/whip/tpl.bl/bongos/congo/crot/vib - 4 vln.2 vla.2 vlc.db (or small complements)
Commission
Commissioned by Faber Music Ltd for its Millennium Series. Nicholas Vines was nominated by Peter Sculthorpe.
First Performance
15.6.2009, Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP),Williams Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA, USA: Callithumpian Consort/Stephen Drury
Availability

Score and parts for hire

Programme Notes
Firestick is inspired by sections of Tim Flannery’s ‘The Future Eaters’, which espouses controversial theories about how man has affected the ecology of Australasia. Flannery believes that giant marsupials, whose existence is known through fossil records, were hunted to extinction by the first wave of Aborigines some 60, 000 years ago. These animals were harmless herbivores, who had never faced any sort of predator let alone man, and so were an easy and plentiful prey. Their passing, however, caused significant problems. Firstly, the enormous mass of vegetation which they had been consuming was now left to grow unchecked. This meant that the fuel supply for fire had dramatically increased. Similarly, with the arrival of man, the incidence of fire had also risen. While ignition from lightning and the like was once more likely to fizzle and die, raging bushfires of either natural or man-made origin were now common and caused untold damage to the environment. The second major consequence of the giant marsupials’ extinction was to leave the Aborigines without a ready food-supply. Over an extended period of time however, the Aborigines developed a technique which both redressed the ecological balance and brought them into a symbiotic relationship with the land. This method has been termed ‘firestick farming’. Small fires would be lit deliberately to burn patches of undergrowth in a mosaic-like pattern. This would limit the fuel for major bushfires and thus decrease their number and ferocity. It would also create an open-plain environment, which encouraged population boom in medium-sized marsupials such as kangaroos. This is turn solved the Aborigines’ food-supply problems. Tragically, this symbiosis was totally destroyed with the arrival of the Europeans, and devastating fires have returned to the Australian bush. The piece as a whole is thus about how the instigation of a modern version of ‘firestick farming’ could not only minimise vast damage to wilderness, properties and homes, but also change how contemporary Australians relate to their own environment. Rather than trace a particular narrative, the work seeks to show a change of perception from anger and despair at the rampaging nature of bushfires to the realisation, through ‘firestick farming’, that fire is an integral part of life in Australia. The cycle of destruction and regeneration intimated physically and psychologically by this process is also addressed. This is particularly relevant to the New Millennium, which is perceived both as an end and a new beginning. A Faber Music Millennium Series commission. Nicholas Vines was nominated by Peter Sculthorpe.

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